Petersburg Pilot -

By Dan Rudy 

Plane crashes on Admiralty; three dead, one survives

 

Submitted Photo

Rescuers reach the crash site of a Cessna 206 aircraft on April 8, which had been traveling from Wrangell to Angoon that morning. The Admiralty Island crash site was high altitude, which coupled with the steep terrain meant a mountain rescue team from Sitka was required to reach the plane.

WRANGELL - A passenger plane based out of Wrangell crashed on Admiralty Island April 8, during a morning flight to Angoon.

Of the four onboard the Cessna 206, the pilot and two passengers were killed. A third passenger, Morgan Enright, 21, of Ketchikan, survived the crash. The United States Coast Guard and Sitka Search and Rescue transported her from the scene and she remains in critical condition in a Seattle hospital.

Alaska State Troopers identified those killed in the crash as pilot David Galla, 60; Greg Scheff, 61; and Thomas Siekawitch, 57. All three men were from Wrangell.

"It's a tragedy. It really impacts the whole community," said Wrangell Mayor David Jack. "Everybody in town knew them and they were pretty well liked."

The six-passenger plane was registered to Sunrise Aviation, which Galla co-owned with pilot Tyler Robinson. The group was traveling for work to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Transportation's upcoming ferry terminal project in Angoon. Enright is an employee of Ketchikan Ready-Mix & Quarry, and Scheff and Siekawitch had both been surveyors for R&M Engineering.

Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert with the USCG Public Affairs Detachment confirmed the Cessna's satellite distress beacon went off at 9:28 a.m., and USCG received an additional report from Sunrise Aviation. Alaska State Troopers were notified by Sunrise at 10:22 a.m.

The crash site was about 2,200 feet above sea level on the southeast end of Admiralty Island near Pybus Bay, approximately 20 miles from Angoon. The wreckage had initially been located by a helicopter operated by Temsco Helicopters, and a MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter was dispatched from USCG Air Station Sitka to the scene. Spotting the site at 11:25 a.m., the USCG copter was unable to touch down due to difficult terrain and a severe downdraft.

Unable to land on-site, the USCG contacted the Sitka Police Department to request use of its high angle technical ropes team. Sitka Search and Rescue was already engaged in a search for missing kayaker Jesse Mills when the plane crashed, but was able to get four of its mountain rescue specialists to aid the operation.

Lance Ewers, lieutenant with Sitka Police Department and captain of its search and rescue team, explained their ropes instructor from Colorado happened to be up for a training session at the time and was able to participate in the effort.

A USCG helicopter picked up the team and conveyed it to Admiralty, locating a suitable landing zone further up from the crash site. The team worked its way down, and Ewers recounted the party was surprised to find a passenger had survived.

"That was something they were not expecting," he said. "It was a pretty amazing deal."

The wind had lightened since earlier in the day and the helicopter was able to approach the crash site. A Coast Guard swimmer accompanied the rescue basket and Enright was loaded onto the stretcher and conveyed to Kake for immediate medical treatment.

From there she was medevaced to Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau for higher level care and was moved to Seattle's Harborview Medical Center. As of Tuesday, Enright remains in critical and intensive condition according to the

hospital.

Submitted Photo

Crash survivor Morgan Enright is prepared for medical transport to Juneau after being moved from Admiralty Island on Friday. She was medevaced to Seattle the following day for further care. Alaska State Troopers were not prepared to comment on the extent of her injuries, but Harborview Medical Center in Seattle confirmed Enright remains in critical condition.

Alaska State Troopers reported the bodies of Galla, Scheff and Siekawitch were recovered Saturday. The Juneau Empire reported Monday that investigators with the National Transporta-tion Safety Board had recovered the wreckage Sunday and Monday and were assessing it in Juneau. A preliminary report could be expected within the next week.

The loss of three of its longtime residents was heavily felt in Wrangell over the weekend. The annual Chamber of Commerce fundraising dinner scheduled for April 9 was postponed after news of the disaster was learned. In an explanatory statement, Chamber president Christie Jamieson extended her heartfelt condolences to the families of those involved in the crash.

Community members have been swift to respond to the disaster. For instance, Wells Fargo accounts have been set up for the families of Galla and Siekawitch, and Zak's Cafe announced on Facebook it would contribute all of its earnings Wednesday to the two families. Local running group Southeast Beasts planned to hold a walking benefit Wednesday evening, both to raise money and spirits.

Grief counseling services have been made available through the local schools and Alaska Island Community Services, and community members are also invited to contact the Wrangell Ministerial Association for additional support at 305-4673.

 

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